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Stephanie Gertler Headshot

The Sanford Marriage: Vogue v. Rogue?

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Who really knows exactly what happened in the Sanford marriage? Probably only that hapless fly on the wall. According to both Mark and Jenny Sanford, difficulties were brewing long before the governor's emotional and public meltdown.

Romantics might argue that he really did find his soul mate in Maria Belen Chapur and finally got to a breaking point where neither his marriage nor his political career mattered as much as the woman he truly loved. Publicists and campaign managers who were looking forward to his 2012 run for the presidential nomination might contend that putting romance aside instead of shooting himself in the political aspirations would have been wiser. Religious zealots might say he betrayed God and the Bible and succumbed to temptation. Constituents may feel he betrayed his country (well, certainly the state of South Carolina). Some women might say he's just a cad and how dare he do that to his wife and family. Some men might say that the governor had good reason. Some might say boys will be boys. For sure, many of us would agree that their four young sons are about to come from a broken home, and two people who thought they could make a dream come true woke up to a grim reality for whatever the reasons.

Jenny seems to have said a lot of different things in the last month or so since all this has gone down. To her credit, she moved out of the governor's mansion - kids in tow. I applauded her for that: for me, I couldn't understand how Silda Spitzer and Diane McGreevy stood by their husbands in their roles as political wives: What message were they sending to our daughters, never mind to all women who were deceived? Their husbands didn't betray the political wife/first lady of the state - they betrayed the women they married years before.

I applauded Jenny for the brave move to pack up the kids and move to their beach house on Sullivan's Island until the Vogue spread hit the stands: My visceral reaction was that she was putting herself and her kids back in the media spotlight just as the sad scenario was fading into the landscape. I questioned how she could say she wanted her family to heal, wanted to protect her children, and stated that her move wasn't an impetuous act, but rather one considered with a great deal of thought and care. Admirable with a touch of gravitas until her intimate revelations in Vogue: that the two never had a spark between them even in the beginning - "we were never madly in love, but compatible and good friends" - to me, that sounds like a bad recipe for a marriage. Jenny goes on to say that her husband's extramarital relationship with Maria was an addiction, an obsession, a mid-life crisis. That's where I began to get more confused, and questioned her motives: If parenting is so important to her, why reveal details of their last 20 years let alone the last year?

Mark Sanford was no better. In his most public apology, also rife with way too much information, he apologized not only to his wife and children but to his staff, constituents and friends: As his wife, I would not have wanted to be lumped in with everyone else. As his wife, I would have preferred he said it was a private matter. To make matters worse for both his wife and sons, he made it quite clear that his relationship was far from a fling: He was in love with Maria. A love that started as a "deep deep friendship" and became "much more than just sex." She was, in fact, his soul mate.

For those "women scorned" who are not solicited by Vogue, what do we do to retrieve our self-esteem, and get over the humiliation of our husband's infidelity? Given her husband's (mind you, not the governor's, but her husband's) televised confession, my confusion began to lift. I'm thinking now that Jenny's Vogue spread was the equivalent of Carrie Underwood's hit line "I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights:" Rage with dignity.

And waffling again, I think of Mark Sanford who, by his own admission, was a repeat offender when it came to marital fidelity. He said he'd "crossed the line" before - but this time it was different. Another hit song? "I fooled around and fell in love?" Does this make him human or a cad? Should he have held himself to higher standards since he was a governor and a presidential wannabe? Or should he and Jenny have dissolved their marriage years before regardless of political goals? Or, based upon Jenny's statement that their marriage was never one of passion, did they both sell their souls to the devil only to find the price was untenable both personally and politically? Can we not have divorced governors, senators, and presidents? Does America really love redemption that much? Would America rather have a bad marriage in The White House than no marriage at all?

A psychiatrist once told me two things when it comes to marriage: No one ever completely heals from infidelity and each spouse has their own true version of the truth. As an outsider, the only component I question in the Sanford marriage (disclaimer: of which I really have no knowledge) is whether or not, in that passionless beginning as told according to Jenny Sanford, they both knew some place in their souls that they were doomed from the start. And, at the end of the day, does the American public really have to know what goes on in and out of a politician's bedroom and marriage? Isn't it bad enough for just the couple, the kids, and the extended family?

Between his confession and her Vogue glam piece, I'm wondering what purpose either public performance really serves either of them.

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